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Hegemonic Rivalry
From Thucydides
to the Nuclear Age
Richard Ned Lebow
and Barry S. Strauss
Westview Press
f' (
National Ideology and Strategic
Defense of the Population,
from Athens to Star Wars
Josiah Ober
On March 23, 1983, President Ronald Reagan gave a televised speech
to the American public in which he proposed that the United States
begin working to develop a space-based "peace shield"-a system of
strategic defenses that would "intercept and destroy strategic ballistic
missiles before they reached our own soil or that of our allies." The
goal of the system would be to "give us the means of rendering these
nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete" and "eliminat[e] the threat
posed by strategic nuclear missiles."
Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative
(SDI)-dubbed "Star Wars" by the proposed system's detractors-has
since become a major factor in American defense planning and diplomacy.
Most SOl planners envision a limited system in which only the most
important military targets would be defended.
The version that has
been marketed to the American public, however, both in Reagan's initial
speech and by' private groups advocating SDI, is a strategic defense of
the population: a system which, once fully implemented, would safeguard
the residents and the economic infrastructure of the United States from
nuclear attack.
The version of SOl in which the American public has
been encouraged to believe is a true grand strategy of preclusive
population defense. ,.
The literature on Star Wars is vast, but the psychological impact of
preclusive defenses on popular opinion and on decision making by na-
tionalleaders has not been taken enough into consideration. The problem
is best approached historically, since although technologies change, there
are apparent continuities in the interaction of public opinion and policy
within democratic polities. A consideration of the impact on classical
Athens of the development and deployment of preclusive population
Josiah ObeT National Ideology and Strategic Defense 253
defense systems points out the complex interplay between defensive
strategy and national ideology. The history of Athenian defense strategy
in the ,fifth and fourth centuries B.C. suggests that a national military
policy based on a grand strategy of preclusive defense can lead to both
ideological and technological problems and helps to explain why these
problems may not be fully recognized by the system's designers or by its
supposed beneficiaries. Furthermore, the Athenian example suggests that
preclusive defense systems can destabilize power regimes regardless of
whether the system was built for genuinely defensive purposes (as SOl
proponents claim) or to mask aggressive plans (as some critics of SOl
claim).. The Athenian example helps to explain the role of offensive and
defensive innovation in destabilizing international power regimes and in
expanding and intensifying hot conflicts. analysis of how
Athenian public opinion conditioned foreign policy options may offer a
challenge to the classical Realist of international relations theory.
Some may object at the outset that the unique strategic function of
nuclear weapons renders all pre-nuclear age history irrelevant to dis-
cussions of international relations.
But, while admitting that the modern
situation indeed presents some unparalleled features, I believe that there
is a very real danger in abandoning history when thinking about inter-
national relations. Those who fail to take the past into consideration tend
to regard their own attitudes, biases, and modes of thought-in short,
their ideology-as objective and as capable of arriving at objective truth.
Consequently, they may fail to recognize the limits that their own
ideological presuppositions impose upon the range of options to which
they are able to give serious attention. Ideology, as I have defined it here,
is inescapable and dangerous because it tends to be invisible: Michel
Foucault has emphasized that ideology is not simply prejudice that can
be shed through exercise of the rational will, but is structured into the
discourse and power structure of every society.6 If Foucault is correct,
strategists and planners are wrong to assume that their conclusions can
be completely rational or free from extraneous influences, because the
very form of their thought is predetermined by the ideology of the'society
in which they live. Studying the past may offer a partial corrective. The
ideology of past societies tends, over time, to become more opaque and
so is subject to analysis and interpretation. Historical studies can therefore
reveal the ways in which strategic choice molds national ideology and
can reveal how that ideology in turn conditions strategic decision making.
Thucydides emphasized that the Peloponnesian War pitted Athenian
sea power against Spartan land power.
This situation entailed offensive
capability inequality. The Athenians could use their superior navy to
raid the Peloponnesian coast and to interfere with overseas trade by
members of the Peloponnesian League, but they could not do much
direct damage to Sparta's home territory.8 For their part, the Peloponne-
sians could upon and occupy the home territory of Athens. The
Athenians could not prevent the occupation unless the Athenian land
army could defeat the Peloponnesians in open battle. Given the superior
numbers of the Peloponnesian infantry and the superior military training
of the Spartans, this was not a likely scenario, and both sides knew it.
The disparity of means by which offensive military power could be
deployed was certainly a primary reason why many Spartans and
Peloponnesians believed the war would be short and must inevitably
end in Athenian surrender.
Athenian strategists had to devise a way to deflect the effects of the
direct application of offensive land power by the Peloponnesians on
Athens. The solution to the problem was found in fortifications. Given
the inferiority of fifth-century siegecraft, the massive Athenian long wall
fortified complex (the Athens-Piraeus long walls) offered a cOIJ)pletely
secure bastion behind which the Athenians could defend themselves
against Spartan military forces. to By protecting the population of Attica,
the fortification complex could potentially balance the power equation
in a protracted war with a superior land power. But we do not actually
know whether that was the original intended function of the fortification
The city wall of Athens was rebuilt after the Persian Wars (480-79
B.C.), and the long walls to Piraeus were completed in the 450s.
the strategic views of the architects who planned the walls nor those
of the citizens who approved the plans in the Athenian assembly are
known. It may be the case that the original motivation behind wall
building was aggressive: to create a secure bastion that would allow
Athens to launch attacks without fear of effective retaliation. But it is
unnecessary to presume a priori that most Athenians in the decades
before the Peloponnesian War had rationally thought through the role
the walls might play in' a major war. Many Athenians may well have
regarded building long walls as part of the normal (for the period)
"tactical" military preparations of the city: a factor in fighting the enemy
indeed, but not intended to permanently protect the entire population
of the state. Pre-Peloponnesian War Greek warfare was highly formalized
and emphasized personal bravery and collective fortitude rather than
strategic insight.
It was ordinarily assumed that enemy invaders would
be challenged to a fair fight in the open field by the national levy of
the invaded state. City and harbor walls ensured that towns could not
be captured by surprise; they allowed the national army to' prepare in
an unhurried manner to meet the enemy in the field. In the case of
defeat in the field, the defenders could retreat to a place of safety, and
the negotiations with the victorious enemy could be carried on in an
atmosphere of relative tranquillity.
Pericles, however, recognized that the urban fortification complex held
the potential to serve a comprehensive role in protecting the Athenian
population and essential Athenian economic resources against the superior
Peloponnesian land army. Pericles argued that if all the Athenians in
Attica retreated within the walls, they need not engage the Spartan-
Peloponnesian land army in battle. The Spartans could ravage the land
outside the walls, but extraurban property was strategically nonessential
in light of the ability of Athens' navy to convoy supplies to the port
at Piraeus. Imports could be paid for with accumulated surpluses and
imperial revenues.13 Thus, Sparta's military migl,t would be rendered
impotent. Since the Spartans could not hope to assault the walls
successfully, the Athenians inside the city would be insulated from the
deployment of Spartan power, provided they were able to ignore damage
done by invaders to property outside the walls. The city wall defense
plan required considerable sacrifices on the part of the Athenian rural
population-over half, perhaps three quarters, of the total citizen pop-
ulation. Given Athens' democratic constitution, Pericles' strategic plan
required the acquiescence and cooperation of the rural population.
Thucydides implies that Pericles had some difficulty in persuading some
Athenians to accept this view of the fortifications as a retreat for the
population and in getting them to stick by his strategic vision during
the first Peloponnesian invasion in 431.
But in the end Pericles won
out. His grand strategy for the Peloponnesian War, based on sea power
to control the empire combined with strategic defense of the population
within the urban complex, confounded the Spartans for several years.
Pericles' strategy radically altered the use of force in Greek international
relations. The physical obstacle represented by stone and brick fortifi-
cations effectively stymied the deployment of military force by human
agents who lacked the technological means to overcome the obstacle.
Thucydides was intensely aware of the role fortifications played in
interfering with the deployment of force. In the introductory section of
his history, Thucydides emphasizes the part that fixed defenses played
in the origins of civilization: before men built defensive walls around
their settlements, there could be no civilized life, because wandering
tribes and pirates could easily overwhelm undefended settlements. Only
after the development of fortifications could a civilization based on
overseas transport flourish.
The highly positive assessment of Pericles'
career in Book 2 implies that Thucydides regarded Pericles' strategy as
rational and capable of leading to victory.16
But, with the aid of hindsight, Thucydides came to see the role played
by fortifications in international relations rather differently than did
Pericles. The latter seems to have supposed that his new defensive
strategy would simply amputate Spartan power, by denying the Spartans
an object they could affect through the deployment of the most important
type of offensive military force (infantry trained to fight in open plains
in hoplite formation) at their disposal. For Pericles, the walls were an
immovable object which would demonstrate that Spartan military power
was far from being an unstoppable force. Thucydides ultimately rec-
ognized that the interaction between the deployment of offensive force
and defenses could have results that were rather more complex than
Power and lust for power, for Thucydides, were inevitable products
of human nature and of inequalities in strength. Once the artificial
constraints of conventional morality and ethics had been stripped away,
power, exercise'd through the threat or the application of force, flowed
from the stronger and swept away the objections of the weaker, rather
like the action of a river which naturally flows downhill and carries
before it lesser obstacles.
Drawing out the river metaphor, a Thucydidean
view of power might visualize fixed defenses as large, irregularly shaped
boulders that fall into the stream of power: impediments that distort
and redirect the stream. Thucydides emphasizes the turbulence by drawing
the reader's attention to several incidents when superior Peloponnesian
forces were unable to stot:m fortified positions, notably at the sieges of
Oinoe, Plataea, and Pylos. In these cases and others, the fortifications
were ultimately unable to stop the flow of power, but the turbulence
resulting from the long and futile sieges led to significant consequences:
notably the reinforcement of an Athenian conviction that the Spartans
were militarily impotent. This o n v ~ o n in turn helped to short-circuit
efforts to end hostilities and encouraged the Athenians to expand the
war. The consequences arising from the strategic use of fortifications
were among those elements of chance which Thucydides claimed were
the natural products of war, elements beyond the ability of anyone-
even the far-sighted Pericles-to foresee or understand.
Pericles could create an apparently rational grand strategy, but he
could not control the results of. the impact of that strategy on Athenian
public opinion, on Spartan decision-making, or on natural processes
(e.g., the spread of the plague within the city). As a result of the
uncontrollable physical and ideological effects of Pericles' defensive grand
strategy, the Peloponnesian War took a series of surprising turns and
expanded to involve the entire eastern Mediterranean world.
A developing appreciation on the part of both the Athenians and the
Spartans for the strategic potential of fortifications was a major factor
Josiah Ober
National Ideology and Strategic Defense 255
in the war, and Thucydides gives this factor a significant role in his
narrative. The defense of Athenian Oinoe and of the pro-Athenian town
of Plataea by small garrisons against much larger besieging forces were
case studies in the strength of fixed defenses against traditional Greek
offensive siege tactics.
The Athenian construction of a fortified position
at Pylos on the coast of Spartan-held Messenia in 425, combined with
the Spartan infantrymen's inability to carry out a successful frontal
assault on even a makeshift fortification, led directly to the Athenian
capture of Spartan soldiers on Sphakteria Island. Athenian possession
of Spartan hostages forced a temporary halt in Spartan military incursions
into Attica, but Spartan power continued to flow and thus the war
spread to different theaters.
The Spartan general Brasidas succeeded
in capturing fortified coastal cities of the Athenian empire in northern
Greece; his indirect strategy for putting pressure on' Athens and his use
of economic coercion to force the northern cities into submission fore-
shadowed Spartan operations during the Ionian War.
In 424 a defeated
Athenian army in Boeotia fell back on makeshift fortifications at the
sacred site of Delium. The Boeotian besiegers drove off the defenders
by developing a sort of flame-thrower: an early example of defenses
stimulating new technologies of offense.
The negotiations which led
to the Peace of Nicias were endangered by a drawn-out dispute over
who would be left in control of the fortress of Panactum on the Athenian-
Boeotian border. 23
The Periclean strategy left the Athenians secure behind their walls,
and they maintained an offensive potential in- their navy. This combination
of security from assault and offensive capability seems to have contributed
to Athenian belligerence, which some scholars have seen as a key factor
in the origins of the war.
Once war had broken out, Athenian security
and offensive capability were important factors in broadening the conflict.
Athenian naval raids on the Peloponnese in the early years of the war
may have begun as reasoned responses to Spartan invasions of Attica.
But the naval raids did .not have much effect, and the Athenians were
soon led to attempt more ambitious offensive endeavors. Between 429
and 426, besides keeping up pressure on Megara and engaging in
defensive operations in various theaters, the Athenians went on the
offensive in Aetolia, Thrace, Boeotia, Crete, Melos, and Sicily.25 The
garrisoning of Pylos in 425 was a significant amplification of the naval
raid strategy and, as we have seen, led to an expansion of the war. In
415, during an interval of peace with Sparta, the Athenians voted to.
attack Syracuse in Sicily.26 It was surely obvious to many Athenians
that this action would lead to a renewal of war with the Peloponnesians.
But the majority of Athenian voters seem not to have been particularly
concerned about this. The success of the Periclean defensive strategy in
preventing the Spartans from exerting direct force upon the citizenry
of Athens was surely an important factor in the Athenians' decision to
invade Sicily. The advocates of the Sicilian strategy were able to play
upon the imperialistic ambitions of a population that imagined itself
immune from enemy military might.
Thucydides' detailed narrative of the Sicilian expedition pointedly
underscores how the Athenians themselves learned the hard lesson they
had taught the Spartans: how difficult it was to storm a large, well-
fortified city. The Athenian operations against Syracuse centered on an
attempt to close off the Syracusans from their home territory, by
constructing a wall of circumvallation. Meanwhile, the Syracusans were
safe behind their own massive city fortifications, and they constructed
a counter wall, which cut off the Athenian attempt to besiege the city.
The Athenian army went largely on the defensive once the circumvallation
strategy failed. The ironic circle was closed when the Athenian besiegers
found themselves besieged, due to their inability to defend their own
field fortifications from Syracusan counterattacks. 27
Meanwhile, in mainland Greece, the Spartans went on the offensive.
In 413, taking a lesson from the Athenian occupation of Pylos, they
fortified and permanently garrisoned the Attic village of Decelea, 21
kilometers north of the city of Athens. Most Athenians were now forced
to remain in the city year-round. For the first time, Athenians suffered
the psychological miseries of an extended siege, even though food supplies
remained ample thanks to the secure port of Piraeus and the continued
superiority of Athenian sea power.
The Spartan strategy of epiteichismos
(constructing a garrison fort in enemy territory) was a logical response
to Athens' policy of urban defenses. The Decelea garrison allowed the
Spartans to use their superior land army to control enemy territory, to
destroy enemy extraurban resources in an organized manner, and thereby
to step up the economic and psychological pressure on the Athenians
trapped inside the city.
A similar, indirect approach-deployment of military pressure against
enemy resources rather than enemy armies in order to circumvent a
strategic defense for which no direct technological "solution" could be
devised-is evident in Sparta's use of naval forces during the Ionian
phase of the Peloponnesian War. Like Brasidas in the late Archidamian
phase of the war, Lysander and other Spartan commanders concentrated
on undermining the strength of Athens' empire. The Spartan commanders
recognized that Athenian economic dependence on imperial revenues
and on the grain route from Egypt and the Black Sea was, in Clausewitzian
terms, Athens' center of gravity.29 After Lysander's defeat of Athens'
fleet at Aegospotamai in 405, the Athenians were deprived of vital grain
supplies. Bracketed by Lysander's fleet and the Decelea garrison, the
256 Josiah Ober
National Ideology and Strategic Defense
258 Josiah Ober
National Ideology and Strategic Defense
city was starved into submission in 404. The Athenian city wall complex
was never overcome, indeed was never assaulted, but Pericles' strategic
defense system had been defeated by the simultaneous application of
indirect pressure by land and sea forces. The Spartan victory was sealed
when, to the sound of flutes, the Athenian long walls were demilitarized.
For Thucydides, the fall of Athens was, at least in part, the fault of
the "radical" democracy-the inability of the citizen Ropulation to devise
effective policy after the death of wise and authoritarian Pericles. The
authorization of the Sicilian expedition is his case in point. But Thucydides'
description of the war and his analysis of the. relationship between
defense policy and the play of power allow a different explanation: that
the ideological effects of a strategy based on defense of the population
carried the seeds of the system's own destruction. T.he effectiveness with
which the fortified urban complex buffered the effects of Spartan military
might upon the Athenian population led the Athenians to overestimate
their own power vis-a-vis the power of their enemies and so to use
their offensive naval capability to expand the conflict. Because the
defensive strategy initially stymied traditional Spartan tactics, the Ath-
enians failed to consider that their enemies could develop strategies for
deploying offensive military force indirectly. Feeling secure behind their
mighty walls, the Athenians were persuaded to engage in imperialistic
expansionism that overtaxed their resources. Pericles' grand strategy of
defense was brilliant and original but overrationalistic in its assumptions.
He reckoned neither with the ideological effect of guaranteed security
combined with offensive capability on the citizens of a democratic polity
nor with the inventiveness of offensive strategists who are faced with
an unvarying challenge. Even the Spartans, slow as they may have been
to change their ways, could and did figure out means to defeat a strategy
of defense based on a fixed obstacle.
After regaining their independence in the mid-390s, the Athenians
were once again faced with the question of how to defend themselves
against superior land forces. The situation was very different from what
it had been in 431. With Persian support and a reviving economy, Athens
might hope to regain naval ascendancy in the Aegean, but-although
many Athe"nians dreamed of a second empire-the empire and its. revenues
were gone for good. With the loss of the empire, Athens became
economically dependent upon the production of her home territory. The
protection of extraurban resources, especially the farms, quarries,. and
silver mines of Attica, became a primary policy consideration. Pericles'
strategy of abandoning Attica was no longer economically feasible.
Furthermore, international relations in the fourth century B.C. were
complex and flUid. Lacking overwhelming military superiority, Athens
necessarily designed its foreign policy in the context of a highly volatile
diplomatic matrix, one in which last year's allies might well be this
year's enemies and vice versa. The shifting system of alliances was no
doubt bewildering to many Athenian citizens, who were urged by their
political leaders to vote for treaties with recent enemies or to prepare
to attack recent friends.
The volatility and uncertainty of the diplomatic
situation contributed to the preference of many Athenians for a new
strategy of preclusive defense, one that would ensure Athens' security
and would provide a constant on which other more ephemeral and high.
risk diplomatic and military initiatives could be grounded.
Post-Peloponnesian War Greek military operations were quite so.
phisticated and posed serious threats to local-and now vital-Attic
resources. The Periclean defense strategy had made the Peloponnesian
War a testing ground for new offensive as well as defensive strategies
and tactics. The strength of fortified positions against direct assault had
been demonstrated time and again in the war. The primary offensive
counterstrategy devised by the Spartans was an indirect attack on the
resources upon which the enemy depended. In the late fifth century,
that had meant Athens' imperial holdings. Now, in the fourth century,
Athens' enemies could use the strategy of making war upon economic
assets, rather than upon armies, against the agricultural and mineral
resources of Attica.
The defensive lesson of the war-that well-fortified
positions could hold out indefinitely against superior forces-could be
implemented only if ways could be found to limit the effects of indirect
attacks on economic assets.
The fluidity of the international situation, along with the need to
protect the resources of Attica, required a new approach to national
defense. The Athenians were unwilling to return to Pericles' city/navy
strategy. But they maintained their conviction that a strategy of defending
the population from attack by land, combined with offensive/defensive
naval capability, s ~ o u be at the center of state military policy. The
implicit lesson of the Peloponnesian War-that new defensive strategies
would lead inevitably to new enemy offensive innovations-was ignored.
The Athenians consequently expanded their land defense system to
include all of Attica. The strategy of preclusively defending the city was
inflated to a strategy of preclusively defending the entirety of the home
territory. It was not feasible to build a wall around the northern and
western land frontiers of Attica, but these frontiers were mountainous
and there were only a limited number of land routes into Athenian
territory available to enemy invaders. The Athenians reasoned that
blocking these routes by the construction of a line of fortresses should
260 Josiah Ober
National Ideology and Strategic Defense 261
offer the same level of security for Attica as the circuit walls offered
for the city. Blocking routes into Attica would protect not only the
population but also the economic resources of the countryside.
Of course, defending a system of border fortifications required a more
complex military infrastructure than did defending the walled urban
complex, in light of the much greater distances involved. The border
fortresses controlling the land routes must be able to communicate with
each other and with the city; a recruitment system ';must be devised to
ensure adequate and dependable garrison troops to guard the forts; a
system for collecting and rapidly deploying reinforcements had to be
initiated; good roads from the center to the periphery were needed to
allow reinforcements to move quickly between the city and the borders.
In the decades after the end of the Peloponnesian War, each of these
considerations was addressed by the Athenians.
By the mid-fourth century was defended by a series of border
fortresses and advance watchposts, so that the approach of enemy armies
could be detected well before their arrival at the border. Another series
of watch stations provided communication (by of fire signals)
between fortresses and from the borders to the city. The younger census
classes of Athenian citizens (ephebes) were trained in the special skills
required for fighting in the mountainous borderlands and for defending
fortified positions. After training, ephebes were stationed at fortresses
and watchposts as garrison troops. The system of calling up the main
Athenian army was streamlined so as to facilitate rapid mobilization
and deployment of reinforcements. Roads from the city to the frontier
were built or refurbished. A special "generalship of the countryside"
was created so that there would be a competent official in charge of
the new system, and the topic of "protection of the home territory"
was added to the mandatory agenda of the ten annual principal meetings
of the citizen assembly.35 The construction of the system of land defenses
corresponded to the growth of the navy. The Athenians viewed the
fortification system as defensive; the navy was also regarded in primarily
defensive terms, but retained an offensive potential. 36
The strategy of preclusive defense. was predicated upon the
assumption that a fortress with a relatively small garrison could hold
out against superior enemy forces for at as long as it took to get
reinforcements to the frontier. In practical terms this meant at least 24-
48 hours, maybe longer. The forts on the most vulnerable routes were
massively constructed, but the garrisons were not solely dependent upon
the innate strength of the walls. By the mid-fourth century the most
important of the Athenian border forts were defended by catapult artillery.
The nontorsion (crossbow-style) catapult had been invented in 399 B.C.
in Syracuse, as an offensive siege weapon.
But non-torsion catapults
were essentially antipersonnel weapons; they were not powerful enough
to do significant damage to well-built fortifications. Furthermore, catapults
were delicate machines and their range was much increased by elevating
them above ground level. Chambered towers on fortification walls could
provide protection from the elements and elevation. Consequently, the
nontorsion catapult was very well suited as a defensive weapon. Athenian
forts built in the mid-fourth century incorporated towers specially de-
signed as emplacements for catapults. The superior firepower that the
catapults afforded against enemy troops helped to guarantee the security
of fortress garrisons.
By the mid-fourth century the Athenians probably felt relatively secure
behind their fortified line. The need to grain and her naval
tradition ensured that Athens never became an isolationist state, but the
fortification system offered the Athenians the luxury of deciding when
and under what conditions they would deploy Athenian military forces
outside of Attica. Often the assembly decided that risking Athenian lives
and spending Athenian cash resources in overseas or overland expeditions
were unnecessary. Some Athenian politicians warned the citizens not
to waste too many of their resources outside Attica. Eubulus and the
general Phocion were, I believe, at the center of those Athenians who
saw the military interests of Athens in "Attica first" terms and urged
the assembly to turn down proposals that would require a
of Athenian military power far from Athens' homeland.
Not all Athenian politicians were convinced of the long-term efficacy
of the territorial defense strategy. Demosthenes protested long and hard
in the 340s against Athenian unwillingness to challenge Philip of Macedon
militarily in northern Greece. Demosthenes argued that ignoring Philip
would result in the very thing the Athenians most feared: a war in
Attica. Even if the enemy could be kept outside of Athens' borders,
Demosthenes argued, an extended period of vigilance would exhaust
Athens' resources more surely than would a surgical strike against Philip
in his own homeland. 40
Meanwhile, Philip's engineers were busy developing new artillery
technology. In circa 350-340 B.C. they devised the torsion catapult, a
potentially vastly more powerful machine which propelled stone shot
or bolts by the spring action of twisted sinew or hair.
By 332 Philip's
son, Alexander, using powerful catapults with deadly effect against
the very well-constructed defenses of Tyre.
Furthermore, Philip's army
was much more skilled at siegecraft than was any previous Greek army. 43
The combination of Philip'S trained army and the new technology quite
clearly would put Athens' border fortresses at risk if it came to all-out
war ,with Macedon. Athens' policy of defending Attica was undermined
by Philip's tactical and technological advances.
Josiah Ober
National Ideology and Strategic Defense 263
How soon should the Athenians have recognized the risk and devised
a different strategy of defense? This question cannot be answered
definitively, as the answer depends on factors that are unknown and
probably unknowable: Philip's actual long-term intentions vis-A-vis the
states of central Greece; how powerful his torsion machines were in the
late 340s and early 330s; how soon the Athenians knew about those
machines. But it seems a likely hypothesis that the defensive strategy
based on the border fortification system blunted fourth-century
Athenians' interest in thinking through the implications of recent military
developments. Having made the financial and emotional commitment to
a defensive strategy that seemed to have "solved" the problem of
offensive land warfare, the Athenians concentrated their attention on
other matters.
Despite Demosthenes' eloquence, therefore, they did
little in the 340s to counter Philip's growing power in northern Greece.
In the end, the Athenians did recqgnize the threat and, spurred by
Demosthenes, allied with the Thebans against Macedon. In 338, the
Athenians sent out their full infantry levy to Chaeronea in Boeotia, well
in advance of the fortified line. But by the early 330s, Philip's army
was large enough and well enough trained to defeat the combined armies
of Thebes and Athens in open battle.
Athens lost her independence
of foreign policy at Chaeronea. And that loss cannot be uncoupled from
the defensive doctrine that had dominated Athenian military thought
through most of the fourth century. The territorial defense system solved
the main military security problems that had arisen as a result of the
offensive strategies developed during the Peloponnesian War. But as a
consequence, Athenian policymakers were slow to appreciate the sig-
nificance of newer technological and strategic developments. Athenian
slowness must be attributed in part to the psychological effects of the
defensive doctrine that the citizenry had embraced.
Thucydides saw power as a force that flows from inequalities in
national strength and recognized that when defenses distort the flow
of power, the consequences are unpredictable. Michel Foucault argued
that knowledge is ideological, that no one can think without employing
the assumptions of the community in which he lives. Foucault saw
power as a product of ideological knowledge: all social and political
relations are conditioned by the ways in which the p
9ple of a certain
time and place view reality. These insights can, I believe, be of key
significance to international relations theory, even if we do not completely
accept either Thucydides' or Foucault's views of power. Combining
Thucydides and Foucault, I would suggest that the national ideology of
a major' state is likely to embrace that nation's right and duty to display
its power: the self-definition of citizens is likely to entail the perception
that they (or their proxies in the government) must retain the ability to
manifest national superiority by actual or potential deployment of force.
Any obstacle erected by another state which threatens to limit the
potential ability of a major state to deploy its power may threaten that
state's internal political stability by introducing a new variable into the
knowledge-power equation. The domestic regime of the USSR has
traditionally based its legitimacy in part on an ideology of national
military superiority. Thus, the internal regime is clearly at risk if the
citizenry comes to perceive its leadership as impotent in the face of
defensive deployments by the United Because Soviet leaders will
recognize this threat to their position, and because they themselves view
international relations through an ideological filter invisible to themselves,
they are likely to respond to an SDI deployment by putting pressure
upon Soviet scientists, engineers, and military strategists to come up
with a quick "solution" to the SDI "blockage." The solution must offer
a means to balance, circumvent, or destroy the "shield" and so restore
Soviet potential to deploy power. This government pressure will lead
to a concentration of the USSR's intellectual and material resources upon
breaking the SOL Since the obstacle facing Soviet scientists will be a
"fixed target"-as all strategic population defenses must be-a way to
circumvent SOl will probably be devised, although only after the
commitment of considerable resources. The ideological effects of con-
fronting the SOl blockage and expending resources to eliminate it, along
with a general fear that the United States may soon find a way to
redesign its defenses against the new offensive strategy, may encourage
the Soviet leadership to be ruthless in using that offensive strategy as
soon as it has been The strategic innovations devised by the
ordinarily conservative Spartans in the Peloponnesian War and the
increasingly savage treatment of combatants and civilians in that war
can be explained in these terms.
A grand strategy of defending the population will also affect the
national ideology of the state which has adopted the defensive strategy.
No sane military planner has ever believed that a comprehensive and
self-sustaining defensive shield can be constructed that will totally and
permanently protect the population of the home state against any and
all levels of security threat. Even the most optimistic proponents of, for
example, the French Maginot Line knew that the defensive system could
not afford perfect safety. But, given the huge expense of implementing
a strategic defense system, it is typically politically necessary to "oversell"
the system to the population that will be asked to foot the bill. The
successful campaign by French military experts and politicians to market.
264 Josiah Ober
National Ideology and Strategic Defense
the idea of the Maginot Line to the French public in the late 1920s and
1930s is a case in point.
In order to be accepted by the voting public,
the defensive system must be touted as more effective, more permanent,
and more self-sustaining than it could possibly be designed to be.
In certain circumstances (as in the case of Athens after the Pelo-
ponnesian War and France after World War I), the citizenry of a democratic
state will be predisposed to believe that preclusive defense of the home
territory is desirable and so will be inclined to accept the "total" version
of the defensive system as feasible. But, having voted for it (or its
proponents) and having paid for it, the citizenry will naturally expect
to enjoy the promised benefits. Citizens who have been assured that
the problem of offensive warfare has been solved are not likely to take
kindly to subsequent revisions in the original estjmate of the defensive
system's effectiveness. And, once the expensive system has been com-
pleted, they may feel that they are entitled to a corresponding reduction
in other sorts of military expenditure. Canny politicians will not be
eager to puncture the balloon; braver ones will .be ignored. The result,
as in the case of the Athenians in the fourth century B.C., is likely to
be a national reluctance to acknowledge the reality of technological or
strategic advances which undermine the reliability of the defensive system.
Alternatively, since they believe themselves fully protected from the
threat of enemy retaliation, the citizenry of the defended state that
maintains an offensive capability may be more willing to listen to
politicians who advocate escalating overt deployment of military force
against other states. Such was the situation in Athens in the Peloponnesian
War and perhaps also in the mid-fifth century when the long walls
were built to Piraeus. Such could also be the case in the United States,
even if we take SDI proponents at their word and assume that the
system does not mask an offensive strategic policy.
The ideological impacts of a grand strategy of defending the citizenry
are, in sum, likely to be powerful-both on the defending state and
upon its opponents. Those ideological impacts are destabilizing to in-
ternational power regimes. Given that SDI will be extremely expensive,
that the States is likely to maintain an offensive potential even
after putting 501 into place, and that the ability to deploy power is
surely a significant element in the national ideology of the Soviet Union,
the deployment of SDI holds the potential to undermine the existing
international regime. Significantly, in the proposed model, destabilization
need not necessarily be the product of an actual desire on either side
to upset the balance of power. Planners who ignore ideological factors
in their own, their nation's, and their opponents' thinking may make
serious miscalculations in the erroneous belief that their own goals are
completely rational and that their assessment of their opponents' intentions
are objectively realistic. The history of democratic Athens' experimentation
with two versions of strategic population defense suggests that the long-
term ideological effects of building and deploying an SDI system, on
American and Soviet citizens and policymakers alike, will have con-
sequences that cannot and will not be accurately assessed by either side.
Ironically, the better the system is perceived to be working (in terms
of defending the U.S. populace), the greater the ideological impact on
both sides will be-and the greater becomes the threat of destabilizat:on.
1. Reagan's speech: U.S. State Dept. Bulletin; vol. 83, no. 2073 (Washington,
D.C.: GPO, 1983), pp. 8-14. The comments of many contributors to this volume
were useful in the reworking of this essay; special thanks are due to Matthew
Evangelista, Barry Strauss, Ned Lebow, and George Forrest.
2. See Ballistic Missile Defense and U.S. National Security: A Summary Report
Prepared for Future Security Strategy Study in Strategic Defense and Anti-Satellite
Weapons, Hearing before the Committee on Foreign Relations, U.S. Senate
(Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1984), pp. 125-140; cited in G.M. Steinberg, Lost in
Space: The Domestic Politics of the Strategic Defense Initiative (Lexington, MA:
Lexington Books, 1988), pp. 4-5.
3. This "total" version of 501 was epitomized by a television advertisement
in animated cartoon form (sponsored by a private pro-SOl group) which aired
in the mid-1980s: A kindly father demonstrates to his anxious children that the
defense network is an impenetrable "rainbow umbrella." Atomic weapons are
shown exploding harmlessly against the umbrella as the family watches the
display with reverent fascination. Cf. discussion by S.J. Hadley, "The Nature of
SDI," in H. Brown (ed.), The Strategic Defense Initiative: Shield or Snare? (Boulder,
CO: Westview Press, 1987), p. 21. For a fantasy scenario of how a perfect "peace
shield" would work,' see, for example, Ben Bova, Assured Survival: Putting the
Star Wars Defense in Perspective (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1984), pp. 271-
4. For further discussion of the realist position and its critics see the chapters
by Michael W. Doyle and Matthew Evangelista in this book.
S. On the uniqueness of nuclear-era strategic challenges, see Robert Jarvis,
The Illogic of American Nuclear Strategy (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press,
1984), who argues .against "conventionalization" defined as "the attempt to
understand our world by employing the intellectual tools of the prenuclear era"
(p. 14).
6. For further discussion of ideology, see J. Cber, Mass and Elite in Democratic
Athens: Rhetoric, Ideology, and the Power of the People (Princeton, NJ: Princeton
University Press, 1989). Foucault's clearest discussion of power is
probably in the collection of lectures and interviews published as Power/Knowledge,
Colin Gordon (ed.) (New York: Pantheon Books, 1980); see also The History of
Sexuality, Volume 1 : An Introduction, Robert Hurley (trans.) (New York: Random
. "
Josiah Ober National Ideology and Strategic Defense
House, 1978). Hayden White, The Content of the Form (Baltimore, MD: Johns
Hopkins University Press, 1987), pp. 104-141, offers a concise introduction to
Foucault's theories of knowledge and power and a bibliography of important
works by Foucault. Cf. the essays on Foucault's theory of power by David
Couzens Hoy, Edward W. Said, and Barry Smart in Foucault: A Critical Reader,
David Couzens Hoy (ed.) (Oxford: B. Blackwell, 1986).
7. E.g., Thuc. 1.80-81 (speech of Archidamus), 2.62 (speech of Pericles); 4.12;
cf. Chester G. Starr, "Thucydides on Sea Power," Mnemosyne 31 (1979), pp.
8. See, for example, H.D. Westlake, "Sea-borne Raids in Periclean Strategy,"
Classical Quarterly 39 (1945), pp. 75-84.
9. Thuc. 5.14.3. Cf. J. Ober, "Thucydides, Pericles, and the Strategy of Defense,"
in J.W. Eadie and J. Ober (eds.), The Craft of the Ancient Historian: Essays in
Honor of Chester G. Starr (lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1985), pp.
171-188, at p. 3 with n. 5. .
10. Y. Garlan, Recherches de poliorcetique grecque (Athens: Ecole
d' Athenes, 1974), pp. 105-147.
11. On the walls of Athens and Piraeus', see R.E. Wycherley, The Stones of
Athens (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1978), pp. 7-25; Robert Garland,
The Piraeus (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1987), pp. 14-28.
12. See R. Lonis, Guerre et religion en Grece d l'epoque classique (Paris: Belles
lettres, 1979), pp. 25-40; and especially Victor O. Hanson, The Western Way of
War (New York: Knopf, 1989).
13. Thuc. 1.143.5, 2.66.7.
14. Thuc. 2.16.2, 2.21-22.
15. Thuc. 1.2.2-5, 1.5.1, 1.7.1.
16. Thuc. 2.65.13.
17. E.g., Thuc. 3.82-84 (Corcyrean civil war), 5.84-116 (MeHan Dialogue).
The river metaphor is mine, but I believe it catches the essence of Thucydides'
view of power.
18. E.g., Thuc. 1.78 (speech of Athenian envoys at Sparta).
19. Thuc. 2.18-19, 2.75-78, 3.20-24, 3.52.
20. Thuc. 3.3-41.
21. Thuc. 4.78-88, 4.102-116.
22. Thuc. 4.90, 4.100-101.
23. Thuc. 5.40.1,5.42; cf. Thomas Kelly, "Cleobulus, Xenares, and Thucydides'
Account of the Demolition of Panactum," Historia 21 (1972), pp. 159-169.
24. For views on the origins of the war, see the chapters by Barry S. Strauss,
Marta Sordi, and Richard Ned Lebow in this book.
25. Thuc. 2.79, 2.85, 3.86, 3.91 3.94-102, 3.115.
26. Thuc. 6.8-26.
27. Thuc. 6.63-7.15, 7.21-26, 7.31-84. Cf. Ober, "Thucydides," pp. 176-177.
28. Thuc. 7.19, 7.27-28.
29. Spartan strategy: J. Ober, Fortress Attica: Defense of the Athenian Land
Frontier, 404-322 B.C., Mnemosyne Supplement 84 (Leiden: E.I. Brill, 1985), pp.
30. Defeat of Athens, demilitarization of the walls: Xenophon, Hellenica 2.1.15-
31. Ober, Fortress Attica, pp. 13-31.
32. Fluidity of diplomacy: D.J. Mosley, "On Greek Enemies Becoming Allies,"
Ancient Society 5 (1974), pp. 43-50, especially p. 48. Political leadership: Ober, ,
Mass and Elite, passim.
33. Ober, Fortress Attica, pp. 37-50.
34. Ibid., pp. 111-180.
35. Ibid., pp. 87-100, 191-207. .
36. Ibid. On the strategic uses of the navy, see Chester G. Starr, The Influence
of Sea Power on Ancient History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), pp.
46-49; G.l. Cawkwell, "Athenian Naval Power in the Fourth Century," Classical
Quarterly 34 (1984), pp. 334-345; J. Ober, "Views of Sea Power in the Fourth-
Century Attic Orators," The Ancient World 1 (t'978), pp. 119-130.
37. E.W. MarSden, Greek and Roman Artillery, 2 vols. (Oxford:Oxford University
Press, 1969, 1971), vol. 1, pp. 5-16, 48-56; W. Soedel and V. Foley, "Ancient
Catapults," Scientific American 1979), p. 150.
38. J. Ober, "Early Artillery Towers: Messenia, Boiotia, Attica, Megarid,"
American Journal of Archaeology 91 (1987), pp. 569-604.
39. Cf. Ober, Fortress Attica, pp. 65, 215-216.
40. See, for example, Demosthenes' three speeches on Olynthus (nos. 1-3)
and his four Philippics (nos. 4, 6, 9, 10) with comments of Ober, Fortress Attica,
pp. 65, 73-74.
41. Marsden, Greek and Roman Artillery, vol. 1, pp. 16-24, 99-108, 116-117;
Soedel and Foley, "Ancient Catapults," pp. 150, 153-154.
42. Diodorus Siculus 17.43.7, 17.45.2; with the comments of Marsden, 'Greek
and Roman Artillery, vol. 1, pp. 61-62, 102-103.
43. G.l. Cawkwell, Philip of Macedon (london: Faber & Faber, 1978), 161-
163; Garlan, Recherches, pp. 201H.
44. Ober, Fortress Attica, p. 222.
45. The battle: N.G.l. Hammond, "The Two Battles of Chaeronea (338 B.C.
and 86 B.C.)," Klio 31 (1938), pp. 186-218. M.M. Markle, "Use of the Sarissa
by Philip and Alexander of Macedon," American Journal of Archaeology 82 (1978),
pp. 483-497, suggests that the development of the sarissa (long pike) and its
use as a cavalry weapon by Philip was a key element in the Macedonian victory.
46. On the "selling" of the Maginot Line, see R.A. Doughty, The Seeds of
Disaster: The Development of French Army Doctrine, 1919-1939 (Hamden, CT:
Archon Books, 1985), pp. 41-71; S. Ryan, Petain the Soldier (Cranbury, NJ: A.S.
Bames and Co., 1969), pp. 245-275, especially 271-273; A. Kemp, The Maginot
Line: Myth and Reality (Briarcliff Manor, NY: Stein and Day, 1982), pp. 55-63.